Bernard Laporte. Picture: REUTERS
Bernard Laporte. Picture: REUTERS

While the world is in Covid-19’s deadly embrace‚ I initially could not decide whether French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte’s revolutionary idea was him smoking Gauloises on behalf of the bourgeois‚ or his socks.

Laporte, who is championing the formation of an annual World Cup club competition that will pit the best of the southern hemisphere‚ Europe‚ Japan and the US against each other has certainly grabbed everyone’s attention.

Whether talk of such revolutionary intent should be entertained while people are fighting for their existence is moot‚ but I suppose the show must go on. If it sees the light of day, it will have a profound effect on the rugby landscape as it will redraw the seasons either side of the equator.

It is easy to dismiss Laporte’s brainchild as the navel-gazing of a man who is up for election as vice-president of World Rugby in May. Delivering a competition that can snugly fit as one of the jewels in World Rugby’s crown will be Laporte’s gift to the game.

The new competition will result in an overhaul of the global calendar and Laporte‚ France’s former sports minister‚ is vacating the stall early on a ticket of reform. It will rank second only to the Rugby World Cup if it comes to pass in the way Laporte has envisaged.

Understandably‚ however‚ the question of ownership of such a cash cow is fertile ground for dispute. Already some English clubs are saying any club competition should be run by the clubs and cannot operate under the aegis of World Rugby.

That cuts to the heart of the matter of who really owns the game’s most precious commodity — the players. Indeed‚ it is the control clubs wield over the players that has been one of the major stumbling blocks in the creation of a global season in which the calendar on both sides of the equator can be aligned. The need for such synchronicity cannot be overstated in this time of paralysis. The game’s major decisionmakers are scrambling to salvage what remains of the 2020 calendar.

Under Laporte’s plan, the Champions Cup‚ or Heineken Cup as it was previously known‚ will make way for the new competition. Super Rugby will still be played and its top six teams will progress to the global event. Four each will emerge from the Top 14‚ the Premiership and the Pro14‚ as well as a team each from Japan and the US. The competition will be held every year‚ except for when a World Cup is played.

“This crisis must push us to be innovative. Let’s make this new competition‚ I am sure the public‚ partners and televisions will follow‚” said Laporte to French rugby paper Midi Olympique.

“Faced with today’s threats‚ we must move the lines‚ multiply aid and imagine what will be the rugby of tomorrow.”

His idea comes at a time when rugby is divided and in need of intervention. There has been enough obfuscation and the sport is in need of clear coherent leadership. It is particularly divided over how the Test windows should be structured, and Laporte contends the new venture will help bring clarity by standardising that process. In these uncertain times, his plan may well fall on receptive ears.

Just maybe, the man who sports the looks of a zany professor will have the satisfaction of taking the first puff on rugby’s peace pipe.